Imagine your biological sibling, your built-in best friend, the one person you went to for anything and everything, fought with on a daily basis, the one person who understood you and knew you better than you understood and knew yourself, the one person who always had your back regardless of whether you were getting along or not, and the one person who never let anyone else pick on you or bully you.
Now, imagine them not being there anymore, having absolutely no contact at all. Visualize him having been diagnosed with an illness and passing away within six months. Envision that void, feeling of guilt, and helplessness? I’ve been dealing with that for nearly nine years.
While I’m breaking on the inside, I hear other’s reminiscing and laughing with their siblings. All I can do is smile and put on a brave face. I donated bone marrow twice when we were younger and would do it again in a heartbeat. Take a needle to the back for my older brother? I’d say yes before the question was even done being asked! But why wasn’t I able to do that this time? There was a one in a million chance to be a match for bone marrow and that was me, so why couldn’t I help him this time? Apparently, that wasn’t an option, but for years, I didn’t believe that.
Let’s rewind, it was November of 2009 and he came home for what I thought was a regular hospital check-up. I came home from my dance class and asked him what the doctor said, but he said he’d tell me later. Why was he always so much more concerned about protecting me than himself? I asked him two more times and finally got it out of him, all he said was “they found another one.” I immediately knew what that meant and was under the impression that he’d get through it, just like he always did.
This time was different, he had been diagnosed with a disease that only men who are 50 and older get when they drink and smoke almost excessively, but he was only 20, barely drank, and never smoked. With Christmas weeks away, my one and only Christmas wish was for him to get better as soon as possible.
Months went by and his condition deteriorated, but there was always hope that he’d pull through. He was the only person who was fighting cancer and diabetes at the same time and would still make it a priority to aggravate me. I came home from school one day in January and saw him sitting on the couch and all I wanted to do was bother him, in fact, I did such a good job that he yelled at me and told me to shut up. I smiled and said “that’s my brother!”
His 21st birthday arrived and I remember he was sitting on the couch hooked up to machines; he didn’t get to party like every 21 year old should. He was in and out of the hospital for treatment and we were all certain that it would work wonders. That didn’t appear to be the case though.
March had arrived and his condition teetered. By mid-March he had a cardiac arrest and on March 20th , he had gone into a coma. I remember that night like it was yesterday, dad had rushed to the hospital at 10p.m. Hours later, I called him to find out what was going on and what he said broke me “Anjali, your brother is in a coma.”
Grandma and I rushed down to the hospital at 1a.m. I saw him lying in that bed and was in complete shock, I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t know what to do. I just prayed that he’d get better as soon as possible. He didn’t come out though. It was worse than a nightmare!
That was the one year we had the same spring break, and I had imagined us traveling together as we had when we were younger, not seeing him in a coma. Family members came in from near and far to see him, and at that point, we all lost hope. It was March 25th and I had been called into his room, it was time for him to go. I sat with mom and dad crying hysterically and said “We’ve had him for 21 years, it’s time for someone else to have him”, but dad still had an ounce of hope, so we waited another day.
We walked into his room and that evening, his time had come. We had to say goodbye and all walked into his room to do so. After our goodbyes, all the kids were asked to leave his room and within 10 minutes, I had been called back in. He was gone. I was officially broken and cried the whole way home.
The next day was like an open house, people came in and out the entire day, bags and containers of food showed up at the house, every room of the house was full. I saw him again the next day, March 28th, but this time, it was for his funeral. Looking at him in his casket in the same white suit he had worn nearly three years earlier reminded me of how much fun he had at his graduation party.
We gave speeches at his funeral and rather than crying this time, I was comforting our younger cousins who also considered him their older brother. I sat back down and just watched, but I don’t think it had hit me yet. Seeing him being carried for cremation and actually being cremated, I immediately turned around and couldn’t watch.
Days later, we left for India to place him in the Ganges River. I woke up crying almost every day and cried upon placing him in the river. I watched him float away from me forever. It’s been nearly nine years, but that’s been burned into my brain.
Time flew by, people checked in on me and I can’t thank them enough for that, but it was never him checking in. I slept in his room all summer, but I still don’t think it hit me at that point. Years went by and I slowly came to realization that he’s forever gone.
Small things like him jumping on my bed, bothering me, yelling at me, lecturing me, taking the blame for everything, protecting me, and so on come to mind and I slowly realized that I’ll never experience that from him again. Jealousy arises when I see siblings laughing together, yelling at one another, or just hanging out.
Wedding season comes around and it hits me. I won’t get a sister-in-law, give a toast at his wedding, or be an aunt to his kids. He won’t give my future husband the third degree, give a speech at my wedding, be an uncle to my kids, be there for me, give me advice, reminisce with me, fight with me, and so on. It’s something that hits me every time I’m invited to a wedding.
One day it hit me and a friend of mine said “It sucks that he isn’t here, but what’s being sad going to do? It won’t bring him back or change anything. Instead, you should enjoy life and live for both of you guys because you still have that chance.” She was right, if anything, me being upset would make him upset.
The time is now and I owe it to both of us to live life as he always wanted to, and knowing that I would try that would always put a smile on his face. He always enjoyed life and now it’s time for me to do the same. Seeing how happy he was and how much he enjoyed life when he was in remission taught me that life should be lived, not seen. He accepted everything as is. He learned the hard way how short life is and that lesson became apparent to me once he passed away.
He taught me to live life to its fullest and that it could end any day at any time. Enjoy life as it is and don’t complain, just as he did. Passing his life lessons and virtues on is now something I’ll gladly pursue and I have been exhibiting the behavior he taught me soon after his passing and I will always continue to.
Anjali Thawaney is in her mid-twenties and is based out of Chicago. She has successfully attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Information Management from the University of Illinois in Chicago and currently works in I.T.